Feature Article – Rise of the Eldrazi Draft Archetypes

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Tuesday, May 18th – Triple Rise of the Eldrazi draft continues apace, and Quentin Martin has been very busy. Having played a selection of interesting and successful drafts, Quentin presents his thoughts on a selection of powerful archetypes that will surely see you marching to the final table!

Drafting Rise of the Eldrazi is fantastic. Gone are the limitations we’ve seen in past formats, be it forced into restricting three-color Shards in Alara or mono-color in Shadowmoor. Yes, there are certain archetypes in Rise of the Eldrazi, certain color combinations that work better than others, but almost everything is possible. I think I’ve drafted almost every color combination by now and not only have I found success in each and every one (albeit more in some), but there have been different paths to success available to me at the same time.

The presence of the Eldrazi creatures, more specifically Ulamog’s Crusher, means that almost every deck can ‘go big’ if it so chooses. This means that you can always go control and find enough gas to get there; there are plenty of walls and other defensive features that make this possible. Dreamstone Hedron helps enormously by providing these decks with some card advantage. This flexibility leaves us with a thriving draft format.

Certain cards are golden in one archetype and almost worthless in others. Mnemonic Wall, Kiln Fiend, Venerated Teacher, Vent Sentinel and Aura Gnarlid are all examples of this. Each one of those cards is also completely pivotal in the archetypes in which they do find a home.

With a Green base, it is entirely possible to draft any color you’d like thanks to Growth Spasm, Ondu Giant, Prophetic Prism, and Evolving Wilds. There are three archetypes I’ve managed to draft successfully that support four or more colors.

The first is an Aura Gnarlid deck that was WGubr. With a base of Aura Gnarlids and Totem Hartebeest. I dipped into Blue for Narcolepsy and Drake Umbra, Red for Staggershock and Flame Slash, and Black for a couple of Vendettas. After this, it was a defender deck that splashed anything and everything — Mnemonic Wall, Overgrown Battlements, Wall of Omens, and Vent Sentinel.

In all honesty, my four color wall deck was really quite weak. This is something I have found a lot with the ‘defender’ sub-theme. I’ll talk about exactly why in a little bit. For now, it is simpler to say that it was really just a weak version of the Eldrazi deck, the other successful multi-color deck, which does exactly as advertised and stays alive until it can cast some boom-booms and hopefully accelerate them out thanks to Spawn.

I have found that Eldrazi Limited is, at its essence, very old school. It is often about being the man who controls the last standing bomb. This consequently means that vanilla guys do nothing! The game is quickly clogged up by the likes of Vent Sentinels, Sea Gate Oracles, and Sporecap Spiders, such that anything with two power and no out to evasion is awful. Ironically, the exact cards I have just mentioned for stopping the vanilla crap are subsequently a little chaffy themselves.

Beatdown still exists but not in its usual Grizzly Bear and up form. Glory Seeker, for example, is almost completely unplayable in this format. Even Affa Guard Hound almost never makes the cut. In Rise of the Eldrazi, beatdown has had to get tricky. Almost all the colors have access to evasion creatures. Most of them are levellers. The regular dorks tend to get clogged up pretty quickly. There are also plenty of finisher effects like Wrap in Flames that mean that a stalled board can get unstalled very quickly. This means that there is an inevitability of games, a need for the ‘control’ player to either actually win pretty quickly or make sure they have access to counterspells to prevent them from losing.

Decks tend to run only a few cards that actually deal with bombs. Cards such as Deprive, Regress (most Eldrazi are spawned out and Regress sets them back long enough to be irrelevant), Narcolepsy, Oust, Guard Duty, Vendetta and Corpse Hatch are of a total premium. They are not to be wasted on random Hill Giants that the rest of your deck can stop. This is one of the reasons why Flame Slash and Staggershock are so close in power when normally it would not be close. The aim is to always have one of these cards left in the tank for their last bomb. This way, your big plan trumps theirs. When drafting, you have to make sure you pick all of these answers highly. When playing, you have to know how many you have left so you don’t burn them and stone lose to their Ulamog’s Crusher.

I mentioned archetypes. I believe defenders to be a bad as they never stop any of the cards that actually matter! Aura Gnarlid is a solid deck, not only because of its namesake but because, thanks to Totem Hartebeest, it has reliable access to Guard Duty and Narcolepsy. It also has the ridiculous Snake Umbra draw which can take some beating.

Levellers is the only ‘pure’ beatdown deck that I believe stands a chance and this is only because it contains speed, evasion and a few silly cards (Champion’s Drake, Time of Heroes, and Venerated Teacher); it still needs cards that let it win the game if its attack is blunted. It can be UB, and even WB, as well as the typically vaunted WU. UB’s levellers might cost more on average but this only makes Venerated Teacher that much sweeter and having access to more real removal more than makes up for any initial losses.

Get-Big Eldrazi works because it often has the late game to trump anyone else. There are also the decks made up out of some combination of UBR that are just chock-a-block with removal, often supported by Surreal Memoir or Mnemonic Wall and fuelled by such card advantage as Cadaver Imp and Sea Gate Oracle, that they will eventually kill with anything. And, finally, UR Kiln Fiend can kill out of nowhere.

Off the top of my head, these are only the archetypes that can regularly succeed. I acknowledge that by talking about UBR good stuff decks and Big Plan Eldrazi, I have covered almost every deck in the format, but if you try to do something else, you will probably lose.

All the Big Plan decks go about how they get there in different ways. RB kills everything that moves, whilst building up a fair bit of spawn to get there faster. RG generates loads of spawn and then proceeds to do silly things with it from Lavaflume Invoker and Bramblesnap to Broodwarden and Hellion Eruption. UW plays defense, Pacifisms, and counterspells until it gets there. UB has removal and counters.

Finally, we have the Kiln Fiend deck. It is UR with its namesake and Valakut Fireboards. These are combined with various Falter effects, the best of which is Distortion Strike, to deal crazy amounts of unblockable damage. As it runs so many tricks to fuel the Fiends, Mnemonic Wall find its best home here. I thought that UR walls fit very well as an overlap with this archetype, but every time I try and draft it, I end up sideboarding all the non-Scrivener walls out. There’s not too much more to it than that — pick the two essential creatures highly, as you will always pick up the Falter effects late. Pick the ‘answer’ cards higher than everything else, and keep an eye out for card advantage — Sea Gate Oracles provide this, as well as some often needed vanilla dork defence.

Cards that excel are those that can play multiple roles or one role particularly well. In the multitasking role, four such cards spring to mind. Mul Daya Channelers is a house, on turn 3, as either one of its abilities does exactly what you want at the time — be it a big fatty or mana to cast other big fatties. Halimar Wavewatch provides you with the vanilla defence you need early on, the good defence you need mid game and becomes either a huge dude or a lethal finisher very quickly in the late game. Totem Hartebeest is big enough to serve as defence for random dorks whilst also providing you either with an answer to a real threat or coughing up a five-mana Umbra to give you a threat of your own. Dreamstone Hedron gets you to your first big threat faster, or gives you a very explosive levelling turn and then digs you deep enough to find your next bomb or finisher.

Whilst I’m on special mentions, Pelakka Wurm is a monstrosity. Green will almost always accelerate it out, and the life gain is enough to ensure that it is never too late. There are few tramplers in this format, which is fantastic for actually getting damage through cards like Guard Gomozoa and Awakening Zone; and at the end of the day you get a card out of it — w00t!

I think the most power non-rare cards are Domestication, Drake Umbra, Enclave Cryptologist, Narcolpsy, Corpsehatch, Vendetta, Brimstone Mage (I’ve not played with this card enough yet), Flame Slash, Staggershock, Broodwarden, Joraga Treespeaker, Pelakka Wurm, and Artisan of Kosilek. I think one of the reasons why I end up neither White nor Black in this format is often due to their lack of cards in this selection.

I also have a card I vote for as best non-rare. Those of you who know me well will not be at all surprised: Enclave Cryptologist. So many times, I’ve cast him on turn 1, leveled him and Looted on turn 2 when they’ve not had a Flame Slash, Heat Ray, or Vendetta, spent my third turn casting something randomly defensive, before maxing him out on turn 4 and winning the game. My next choice might be Domestication, though its inability to actually stop the cards that matter severely limits it. I’ve not played with either Brimstone Mage or Broodwarden enough, but every time the Spawn Lord has been cast against me I have been very impressed so he might get the vote for second, possibly edging out all the solid removal.

To sum up, as a general rule of thumb, most decks’ pick orders look something like this:

A) Answer cards
B) Key win conditions
C) Card advantage
D) Evasion creatures
E) Small removal/dork defence

To emphasise this, look how bad cards like Puncturing Light and Forked Bolt are compared to how amazing they would have been in Zendikar. For example, now I almost never maindeck the former. Even Lay Bare gets a nod in this format (though it is harder to leave up thanks to all the levellers) as sometimes you just need it. Even cards like Gloomhunter and Makindi Griffin (!) get quickly out-classed (think Sporecap Spiders, Guard Gomozoa, Soulbound Guardians, etc.).

I think evaluating cards in these broad categories is the key to success when drafting and playing Rise of the Eldrazi. Obviously pick bombs first, that goes without saying, but then my evaluation list kicks in and I think it’ll be hard to go wrong as long as you draft with it in mind. Max out on every solid answer card you can get your hands on and you won’t regret it.

Do your best…